Frederick Police Officer Mark Pecor hangs his knit cap near the dashboard, cranks the heat and swings his patrol car onto Court Street. By the time his 10-hour shift ends at 2:30 a.m., he will have issued traffic citations, checked out a trespassing report, accompanied a disturbed and half-frozen young woman to a hospital, assisted with a suspected drunken driving stop and cruised past a dozen potential trouble spots.
But what he prefers, he said, is foot patrol -- nights spent walking the streets, chatting with residents, stopping at businesses -- the kind of old-style police involvement that can help prevent bigger problems.
"It'd be great to have more time for that," he said. "That's really worth it."
It's a refrain heard in cities across the country, as police embrace "community policing" -- a law enforcement concept that stresses high visibility by uniformed officers and close cooperation among officers, other city departments and residents to prevent crime. As the threat of terrorism increases police workloads, there has never been a better time to involve citizens in crime fighting, police say. But community policing requires more officers, which in this era of shrinking budgets is a tough sell.
"This is the best approach," said Frederick's new police chief, Kim Dine, who became an advocate of community policing during nearly three decades as a police officer in the District, where he reached the rank of assistant chief. He has asked Frederick's mayor and Board of Aldermen for 14 new officers -- more than a 10 percent increase in personnel -- to beef up community policing in the city of 52,000. "We can function with what we have," he said. "But we want to build."
The philosophy envisions police spending less time on calls for service, many of which are non-emergencies, and more time resolving the problems that generate such calls in the first place.
For example, Dine recalls a shopping strip in Washington that was a constant trouble spot. Police analyzed crime reports for the strip, then met with the business owners. Among their recommendations: the laundromat owners should fire an employee who was suspected of selling drugs; the liquor store proprietors should stop selling single beers; store displays should be arranged in ways that discourage theft. Police worked with businesses and the city to ensure the strip was kept cleaner and better-lighted. Calls for help, and crime, decreased.
In some ways, community policing, with its emphasis on foot patrols and grass-roots contact, is not new. But in other ways -- including police support of citizens' patrols, which were once viewed by them as amateurish -- it's a revolution.
"We can't do it all," said Lt. Patrick O'Brien, community services commander in Frederick. "The easy part of police work is riding in a patrol car, answering the radio."
Police say that ideally, they would spend about one-third of their time responding to calls and about the same rest on preventive outreach. In Frederick, as in many other cities, police estimate that some nights calls for service eat up nearly three-fourths of their time. .
That is no surprise to Officer Pecor, who inches down a narrow alley with his flashlight looking for a man callers said was lurking outside a mental health center. After a 15-minute search comes up empty, three nervous young women emerge from the building to explain that they called because they work alone all night, staffing the center's hot line. Pecor makes a mental note to drive by more often and walks one of the women to her car.
"See," he said, back on patrol. "We learned something."
Police nationwide point to Charleston, S.C., as one of community policing's success stories. But there, rampant crime forced the issue, and the city came up with the money to dramatically increase the size of its police force. Such support is harder to come by in cities such as Frederick, with fewer than a half-dozen homicides in a typical year.
That has put Dine, the police chief, on a charm offensive. Last Wednesday night he was in an elementary school gymnasium, listening, with Mayor Jennifer Dougherty and other city officials, to residents gripe about loiterers, litterers and other problems.
"That's what community policing is all about," the chief said. "Communication and responsiveness."
It's also about money. Dine's request, along with increases sought by other city departments, has raised the prospect of a tax increase in Frederick.
"We'll try to accomplish 14 police officers this year," Dougherty said. "But let's add on the homeland security issue. Will we get it all? Probably not."
One well-dressed man in the audience called for a round of applause in support of the staff increase. A 78-year-old woman, Connie Wench, who has lived in Frederick for 30 years, said: "It's a two-way street. The police can be willing, but the neighborhood has to help."
In the back of the gymnasium, Alderman Dave Lenhart said he "absolutely" supports community policing, but wonders about the cost. "As you go into community policing, you have to understand you're not going to have tangible measurements" of success, he said. "Some elected officials have heartburn with that."
The city's community policing effort solicits input from 12 neighborhood advisory councils set up by the mayor's office. The councils bring problems to the police department or beat officers in their areas. When areas draw repeated reports of trouble, "we try to work with the business owner or property owner rather than keep responding," said Lt. Bryan Brown, patrol division commander.
Pecor makes his nightly pass by Xhale, a nightclub whose neighbors often complain of noise, vandalism and fights. There was a stabbing there last year, and police have cited the bar for serving alcohol to minors. Dine mediates monthly meetings between Xhale's owner, Stephen Walker, police, other city departments and the neighbors, asking Walker to address complaints. Tonight, the bar is quiet.
Nearly 2 a.m., and Pecor is summoned on the last call of the night, to help another officer, Joe Hayer, with a traffic stop. Sometimes, during a routine traffic stop, an officer learns that a motorist is wanted for other offenses, resulting in an arrest and paperwork that can take hours.
And that means one fewer officer is available to work with residents. Meanwhile, the calls keep coming, leaving officers little time to head off crime before it occurs.
"We're the last hope for a lot of people," Pecor said. "Like the cavalry."